I Marched

Despite my love of sleeping in on weekends, I woke up early Saturday morning, made myself some coffee, and met up with some friends to attend the Memphis Women’s March.

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Me (on the left) with my friends and co-workers.

I’ve read a fair amount of news talking about the futility of demonstrations, but I want to push against this idea. For example, I expected the turn out at the Memphis March to be low and reinforce my distaste for living in a red state. Instead, I walked through downtown with thousands of other people who are dissatisfied with the direction our current administration is leading us. I smiled and talked to strangers. I chanted and clapped about the hope of democracy.

I was motivated to keep up the fight. 

If the demonstrations do nothing else, perhaps they’ve reminded millions of people across the United States and the world that they are not alone. This is power.

Of course, I am too pragmatic to think making as sign and walking a few miles is enough. However, the March has shown us that there are enough of us to make a difference.  If everyone who attended the marches gave $10 to causes, groups, or even politicians, we could create change. We don’t have oil companies or banks on our side. We have numbers.

Impostor Syndrome Lives

A provost asked me if professional writing students actually get jobs. When I paused to consider how to best answer her question, she asked, “Don’t you know the answer?”

This weekend a student asked me if I like her research question and I thought, “Why are you asking me?” 

When I encouraged a student to rethink her approach, she later told me that she thought she wasn’t a good enough researcher and writer. 

A colleague asked me to recommend a theorist, I thought “They don’t respect me as a scholar” when I couldn’t namedrop fast enough.

I asked a student how she was doing. She responded, “I’m not very smart. I’m not sure I belong here.” 

A colleague asked me under her breath, “Will I ever feel good enough?” 

I once thought that I would get my PhD become Dr. Lukowski and believe in myself. However, two years later I can confidently say that I still feel like an impostor. Every time I’m observed teaching, present a conference paper, or submit am abstract I am sure that this will be the moment the they find out.

What am I afraid the spectral they will discover? That I’m a fraud. That I don’t deserve my degrees. And, that I have no business being in academe.

Of course, my rational mind knows that this is ridiculous, but the fears remain. Psychologists Clance and Imes (1978) coined the term “impostor syndrome” while describing high-achieving people who can’t accept their accomplishments fear being exposed as frauds. While Clance and Imes’s study focused on young college women, over the years we’ve discovered that many high-achievers complain of never feeling adequate. Business publications like Forbes and the Harvard Business Review post stories about over coming the syndrome by “re-framing failure” or “seeking support.”

However, for women in the workplace and the academy, failure and seeking support can have more consequences for our careers. So, while women are more likely to experience impostor syndrome, seeking support may not be an option. Women still face persistent sexism in academia; this Guardian story noted that while 66% of men have tenure, only 42% of women do. Moreover, several studies have shown that women are more likely to experience poverty and job loss. In other words, women have more reasons to be afraid and feel like frauds.

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jorge cham from Piled Higher & Deeper

As I think about all of the women I quoted above, I wonder when we will feel good enough. How many awards, accolades, atta-girls, or great classes will it take? Or, is impostor syndrome part of our success? I sometime feel like my drive to do my best comes from my desire to prove them wrong. That, when the time comes, I’ll prove worthy because I’ve done enough.

Then again, maybe they‘re right.

What reddit Does Right

Recently, I’ve posted a lot about how social media shames people. In class, my students mentioned that social media creates and perpetuates drama – sometimes in really poisonous ways.  In fact, one student is writing her Multimodal Advocacy Project about cyber bulling.

And yet, I see ways in which social media and collaborative writing spaces provide 30 Rockunique opportunities for people to connect. Today, I read this story about a reddit megathread in which women recounted stories about the first time they were looked at in a sexual way by a man (Trigger Warning if you decide to read the thread). This thread on reddit is really powerful because of the sheer number of women coming together to describe their experiences.  I should clarify. This question garnered thousands of responses and tens of thousands of comments.

The power of this megathread is manifold. First, the pathos of these women’s stories is powerful. Reading about an eight year old girl running away from a stranger in a store or about a twelve year old girl having obscenities hurled at her from moving cards, makes the reader realize how vulnerable young girls can be in the most mundane situations. In many of the stories, the girls didn’t understand what the men said to them. Their innocence emphasizes the threat. For women, the experiences are so familiar that they may feel sympathy.

While pathos is a powerful appeal, in some ways, this thread is really an appeal to ethos. The credibility of these women is created by their critical mass. When thousands of women in a relatively small corner of the world share story after story about harassment, their authority to make truth claims increases. Collaborative social media created a space for these women to demonstrate that this experience is real and ubiquitous. In other words, the massive response makes it an appeal through phronesis. It’s common knowledge now; prepubescent girls are sexually harassed before they understand their young bodies.

As much as I may rail against the sexism on reddit, I am impressed when women can use the space to make statement about the conditions they live in.

Social Media Pillory

This week a friend of mine posted about her experience on a dating website. In doing so, she posted screenshots of her interactions with an extremely crude individual on Facebook. She is not alone; see the Instagram account, Bye Felipe. After posting the screenshots, one friend called the guy a “Douche.” My friend responded thusly, “Yeah. It’s a pretty common occurrence, and it shouldn’t be. Public shaming it is!”

This interaction sparked two responses for me. Let’s start with the first one. The amount of violence and sexually explicit language directed toward women online is atrocious. Douche2Women must be careful about their interactions online because men routinely threaten them with rape, hate f*cking, or just outright physical violence. As the screenshot my friend posted online shows, the guy behaves like a classic abuser and moves from “Please forgive me” to “Speak when spoken to” within a few hours.  Of course, this degenerates into vulgar descriptions of his penis, which also seems extraordinarily threatening when capped with “Dumb bitch.”  Almost every woman I know on a dating site, reddit, or other forms of social media has been threatened and called a bitch.

Conversely, my gay male friend who is also on an online dating site reports a different experience. He talks about purposefully teasing other members about their profiles. When I asked him about retribution, he was shocked.  He said, “Yeah, sometimes they say stuff back, but nobody threatens me. Does that happen to women?” I think his experience highlights how high the stakes are for women online.

However, my second response to my friend’s post is equally problematic. Sharing the experience and showing how women are treated on dating sites is a legitimate way to start a conversation on Facebook. In fact, describing the the experience seems like an overtly feminist move by uncovering systemic oppression. This setup video of men catcalling their mothers shows how effective a little shaming can be.

And yet, when my friend posted the screenshots, she shared his photo, his user name, and his city of residence. In effect, she placed him in a pillory. Now the wider public can share in humiliating him for his crimes. Unlike the real pillory that is tied to a specific location, the pillory of the interwebs is everywhere.  Social media has taken public shaming to a global level.

In a perfect world, a man would never send threatening messages to a woman. Nevertheless, we live in this world in which these activities happen all of the time.  As we move forward, we may need to think about the effects of public shame. If our goal is to reform these men and change their behavior, I am not sure the Facebook pillory is the best answer.

Online Violence against Women

It’s crazy coming back from a Conference on College Composition and Communication and trying to readjust to the real world.  While at C’s, I had the privilege of working at the Feminist Workshop and meeting with women at the Women and Working Conditions Special Interest Group. Women from all over the country in a variety of academic positions shared their experiences.

With all of this positivity, I was shocked when I read the news about Ashley Judd’s experience on Twitter. The story begins when, like any other American caught up in March Madness, she tweeted a comment about the success of University of Kentucky’s basketball team. Her tweet was immediately met with a vile and violent response.  She was threatened with rape, called every nasty name in the book, and reduced to a sexual object. Like women calling out other games for sexism in gamergate, Judd became the target of sexual threats.

Judd published a response to the hate in this article entitled, “Forget Your Team: Your Online Violence Toward Girls and Women Is What Can Kiss My Ass.” Judd does a great job of cutting through the crap and getting to the heart of the issue – misogyny. She was targeted with sexual threats because she’s a woman.

Some of her detractors claim this is an issue of free speech and that she part of the idea police. However, I wonder if this is a free speech issue. If someone said, “I’m going to rape you” in the real world, the police could take the threat seriously. I think she’s right to question whether a digital space permits any language.  At the same time, I am loathe to infringe on anyone’s right to free speech. Surely there’s a balance?